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05/26/11

Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis featuring Norah Jones

Here We Go Again

When Wynton Marsalis, Willie Nelson and Norah Jones united at Jazz at Lincoln Center two years ago to celebrate Ray Charles, the results supported the sentiment that two out of three ain’t bad. On the plus side is Marsalis, whose horn work is spectacular throughout, consistently establishing incredibly high imaginative benchmarks that all of his bandmates—pianist Dan Nimmer, saxophonist Walter Blanding, bassist Carlos Henriquez and drummer/percussionist Ali Jackson—effortlessly rise to. Marsalis also proves a surprisingly effective vocalist, abetting the call-and-response bounce of a rollicking, NOLA-fueled “Hit the Road Jack” and easily out-muscling (and out-interpreting) Nelson on “Busted.” Jones, too, is in superb form, particularly with the sweet, slightly countrified yearn of her “Come Rain or Come Shine” and the sighing romantic acquiescence she lends to the title track.

The fly in this otherwise rich ointment is Nelson. When plumbing the depths of both “Losing Hand” and “I’m Moving On,” his world-weary, cat-scratch vocal style is ideally effective. Elsewhere, though, he seems oddly enervated and detached. What could have been a stellar solo reading of “Cryin’ Time” for Jones is instead an awkwardly uneven duet. Nelson’s “Hallelujah I Love Her So” lacks sparkle. His “Unchain My Heart” is leaden and impassive, and “I Love You So Much It Hurts” is absent both passion and pain.

Originally published in June 2011
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